Reconsider cooperation and global governance against COVID-19

In just a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed enormous challenges involving joint action by every country and redesigning international cooperation. When searching for answers, the multi-stakeholder discussion held on 7th May delved into the need to reform and strengthen global governance and promote efficient cooperation that guarantees effective immunization accessible to everybody, as well as having a clear focus on reducing social and gender inequality. 

The Agora was moderated by Toni Marin, journalist, and the panel included Arancha González Laya, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of the Government of Spain, Begoña Lasagabaster, Representative of UN Women in Tunisia and Libya, Pedro Alonso, Director of the Global Malaria Programme at the World Health Organization and Katia Maia, Executive Director of OXFAM Brazil.

We also had some other special interventions: representing NGOs, Alberto Casado, Member of the Governing Team of Coordinadora de ONGD and Director of Advocacy of Ayuda en Acción, for the private sector, Ariadna Bardolet, Director of the International Department at Fundación La Caixa, representing decentralized cooperation, José Ángel Calle Suárez, Director of Extremadura Agency for International Cooperation for Development and M. Luz Ortega, Director of the Andalusian Agency of International Cooperation for Development and, finally, representing the European Union, Félix Fernández Shaw, Director of International Cooperation and Development Policy, Devco.

In addition, the following experts took part: Iliana Olivié, main Researcher at Real Instituto Elcano for International Cooperation and Development and Professor at the Complutense University of Madrid, alongside Carlota Merchán, expert in International Cooperation and member of the Assembly of Madrid. They took part in the conclusions and provided input on the next steps to be taken in the Global Governance, International Cooperation and Partnerships Community for Sustainable Development of El Día Después.

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Why do we need to talk about a new architecture of global development cooperation? 

Leire Pajín, Coordinator of the Community, President of Reds and Director of Global Development at ISGlobal, outlined that the pandemic has changed our concept of safety and security and the responsibility we have now is in a collective sense, while also relying on individual efforts. This means we have to reinforce global governance systems and change the focus of the model for development and international cooperation. This reorientation must allow health systems to be robust, among other aspects. 

Why are “cooperation” and “global” two concepts that need to be considered as one? 

Iliana Olivié identified three main reasons in the conclusions. The first reason was due to solidarity. In this sense, the needs of developing countries are not only not corrected, but they are also multiplying. Secondly, a new cooperation system is needed because the donor countries themselves also need it now (self-interest) in the so-called “Global North”. Thirdly, in terms of common goods, the global goods of interdependence.

These three pillars make up the narrative to reform the structure of global cooperation. Thus, the following reforms are needed. On the one hand, to improve the dividend of the global system of multilateralism: its effectiveness, but above all its legitimacy. On the other hand, to improve the Spanish cooperation system: increasing cooperation between stakeholders. This crisis has highlighted the weaknesses of multi-stakeholder and multi-level collaboration.

One of the first lessons is that the solution is multilateralism: joining efforts and accepting our interdependence.

Arancha González Laya

Arancha González Laya indicated that we have to make sure that the narrative corresponds to reality. In this sense, it is urgent to promote intelligent cooperation. Secondly, it is necessary to materialize the principles with specific actions: in Spain we are working on cooperation for vaccines, treatment and diagnoses. However, the important thing is not that a vaccine against COVID-19 is discovered, but that this vaccine can reach all of the world’s citizens. Thirdly, we must rethink at length the meaning and scope of multilateralism: this model needs reforming, so that it can efficiently respond to the challenges, which are transversal.

The architecture of development cooperation must change. First of all, governance must no longer be vertical, sectoral, as it has traditionally been, but it must be transversal and horizontal. Secondly, governance is no longer a space of governments. Now there are many other stakeholders: NGOs, think tanks, companies, civil society. Thus, it is necessary to move from the purely intergovernmental perspective to poly-governance models. Thirdly, international organizations need more independence from governments, and greater self-decision power for the interests of the planet. 

Pedro Alonso argued that the fact that this virus has reached the entire population of the world may put the efforts (human, financial, technical, logistical and research) at risk for other infectious diseases that have existed for longer, which are still present, and that have a significantly high level of fatality in some parts of the world, such as malaria. It can disrupt global supply chains to health systems in developing countries, and increase, or even double, the number of people who die from other diseases. We must not forget the other infectious diseases that are still around. 

Pandemics exacerbate structures of inequality.

Begoña Lasagabaster

Begoña Lasagabaster claimed that pandemics exacerbate inequality structures. Gender inequality involves and encompasses all fields, societies and countries. We can see how women are on the front line of health care (70% of staff), as well as those in charge of cleaning and the services necessary to provide these health services. Likewise, the burden of personal, family and work balance is overloading women more. She also mentioned that a feminist economy is needed, so that all the advances that have been so difficult to achieve are not lost.


In this sense, Katia Maia mentioned how COVID-19 has outlined the profound inequalities that some societies are going through, such as Brazil, where “there are first-class and second-class citizens”. She emphasized how the consequences of COVID-19 will also be uneven. One of the most important problems is that the Brazilian health system does not reach the entire population, since the country has 40 million people with informal jobs and, as a result, they do not have the same health coverage. For this reason, international cooperation is needed.

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